Archie Manning’s Highest NFL Salary, Which Led the League in 1981, Is Laughably Small Compared to Peyton and Eli’s Regular Earnings

Article Highlights:

  • Archie Manning’s $600,000 salary led all NFL players in 1981
  • His sons, Eli and Peyton Manning, regularly made far more than that during their careers
  • Comparing Archie’s 1981 salary to Eli and Peyton’s lowest earnings creates some interesting results

As the NFL continued growing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, longtime New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning took advantage financially, just as a starting signal-caller should. 

Looking back at Manning’s salary during that time is an interesting history trip on its own merit, especially as NFL salaries have skyrocketed in recent years. However, when you compare those earnings to what his sons, Peyton and Eli, made during their long professional football careers, you wind up with some fascinating results.

Archie Manning’s $600,000 salary led the NFL in 1981

Although the Saints entered the 1981 season coming off a disappointing 1-15 finish a year before, Manning had plenty to smile about when he arrived at training camp.

Manning, who played that season at 32 years old, made an NFL-high $600,000 that season. Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, an All-Pro selection in 1980, led all non-quarterbacks with a $500,000 salary.

According to the Inflation Calculator, Manning would make roughly $1.81 million in 2021. For reference, that’d give him a higher base salary than the likes of Washington’s Taylor Heinicke ($1.59 million) and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts ($1.37 million), both of whom are in their first full seasons as starting quarterbacks.

At least Manning, the second overall pick in 1971, had financial security when he lost eight of his 11 starts that year and threw 11 interceptions against five touchdowns. The Saints finished 4-12 and traded him to the Houston Oilers in September 1982.

Payton could relate to Manning’s pain even as both had extremely high salaries for their time. The veteran running back only averaged 3.6 yards per carry, his lowest since his rookie year, and the Bears finished 6-10. The Jackson State product at least recorded his sixth straight season with over 1,200 rushing yards.

His 1981 earnings are laughably small compared to Eli and Peyton Manning’s yearly salaries

Archie retired in 1984 and watched his middle son, Peyton, become the No. 1 overall pick in 1998. His youngest son, Eli, was the first player selected six years later.

Now, in theory, you might think both brothers always made far more than their father. They each started their careers on massive rookie contracts and later signed extensions which kept them with their original team for over a decade. 

Although Eli retired with the New York Giants, Peyton famously finished his career with the Denver Broncos. It certainly helped that John Elway and the Broncos gave him a five-year, $96 million contract in March 2012.

Peyton retired having earned over $247 million, and Eli cashed in with over $252 million. Suffice to say; the Manning family did extremely well. Still, there are some interesting nuggets to be found upon really examining the numbers.

According to Spotrac, Peyton’s lowest base salary came in 2004 when he earned $535,000. However, he also had a $34.5 million signing bonus, so he didn’t need to put his house up for sale just yet. A year later, he only made $665,000, which is still higher than his father’s salary in 1981.

As a sophomore in 2005, Eli had a $305,000 base salary, or nearly half of Archie’s earnings in 1981. He at least had a $9 million signing bonus to ensure he’d never have to live in Oxford, Miss., again.

Meanwhile, us regular folk are left to read about their large bank accounts. Such is life.

Such low salaries (relatively speaking) might shock modern NFL players

Nearly 40 years after Archie Manning had a $600,000 salary, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes signed a contract worth over $500 million. Welcome to the modern NFL.

The new TV deals and the ever-increasing value of franchises mean teams have more money to spend. In fact, nineteen players have an average annual salary of over $25 million as of October 2021.

The NFL’s minimum salary in 2021 is all the way up to $660,000. Consider that in 2011, the minimum salary was $375,000. Now, the league’s minimum salary is apace to be over $1 million.

We won’t fault Archie or our readers if anyone is feeling green with envy.

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